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Islamophobia and Zionism

Tehran Times – The purpose of this article is to explain how the “Islamic question” has acquired a central importance in the discourse of the European far right. The definition of “far right” is not unanimous when referring to a series of parties or movements that share particular political characteristics. In this sense, several authors prefer to use terms such as “radical right-wing populist parties,” or even “far-right 2.0,” “national populism,” “neo-fascism”… The question of defining this new political phenomenon is not trivial, but rather essential in some way, as it is necessary to name things in order to analyze them properly.

In general terms, it can be stated that the new far right (the definition to be followed in this article) is a distinct political movement from historical fascism. Fascism had a set of characteristics that are not found in the new far-right parties, such as the Portuguese Chega or the Spanish Vox. Fascism sought to establish, through violence, a totalitarian regime with a single-party system aimed at creating a new social order.

The fact that fascism and the new far-right movements are not the same does not mean that there are no continuities and influences from the former to the latter. In general, the new far right exhibits a set of ideological characteristics that allow its identification despite the various forms it may take. Among the most important characteristics are:

– Nationalism: Built upon a historical essentialism that denies the participation of certain citizens in the nation’s history.
–  Authoritarianism in all areas of life, advocating for unequal power relationships across the board.
– Racism: All parties and movements within the new far right make an attempt to construct the nation in a homogeneous manner. That is to say, there are certain population groups, which vary from country to country, that are considered “surplus populations” in the sense that their presence is perceived as an obstacle to the political enjoyment of the native population.

This phenomenon was analyzed by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who explained that many racist political movements perceive the existence of an Other who not only enjoys politically but has usurped that enjoyment from its true owners, the “true citizens.” As mentioned, the identity of the Other varies from one country to another. For example, in Portugal, the Chega party has placed the Roma population at the center of its racist discourse. Despite variations in the construction of the Other, there is a central vision in the discourse of all parties that make up the new European far right: Islamophobia.

Islamophobia and the new far right

This article follows the definition provided by the professor of Portuguese contemporary history, Abdolkarim Vakil, who considers Islamophobia as a form of racism. Specifically, Vakil points out that it is a type of racism directed towards political expressions associated with Muslim identity.

Although Islamophobia has been present since the early stages of Western thought, constructing Muslims as the quintessential “Others” of the West, its discursive centrality for the new far right is much more recent: the early 21st century, specifically in the aftermath of September 11th.

It is also important to note that the notion that Islamophobia is a form of racism is not universally accepted. The main criticism of this definition is that Muslims do not constitute a race, and therefore, it would be meaningless to talk about racism in this context. However, the response to such criticisms lies in understanding that the notion of race should not be viewed solely from a biological perspective, but rather from a political standpoint. In other words, the notion of race implies the regulation and control of certain populations.

Islamophobia has become a discourse that, far from being marginal, has reached the center of the political stage. This, in itself, represents a victory for the strategy of the new far right, which has succeeded, with the help of the media and parties considered democratic, in making Islam and the supposed “Muslim invasion” one of the central political issues in Europe.

Within the centrality of Islam in the political strategy of the new far right, we observe the use of Christian themes and symbols. These serve, on the one hand, to highlight the supposed European roots, and on the other, to focus attention on the threat posed by the “Muslim invasion” to those alleged roots.

The cases of Spain and Portugal are paradigmatic in this regard. In both countries, the history of Muslim presence for more than five centuries is briefly mentioned in school textbooks, which prefer to focus on the so-called “Reconquista.” This narrative follows the idea that Muslims invaded the Iberian Peninsula and were later expelled.

In both countries, the dictatorships of Franco (1939-1975) and the Estado Novo of Salazar and Marcelo Caetano (1933-1974) employed Christian symbols and relied on a historical tradition that emphasized the expulsion of Muslims. This approach is something that the two parties of the new far right, Chega and VOX, continue to promote.

For example, in the Spanish case, VOX has turned the “Reconquista” into one of its political symbols. The party even presented a motion for Andalusia Day to be commemorated on the day of the capture of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, which marked the end of Muslim political power in Spain.

During the recent protests against the amnesty granted by the Socialist Party government to Catalan independentist politicians, sympathizers of VOX gathered in front of Socialist Party headquarters in different cities and chanted slogans such as “Christian Spain, not Muslim,” demonstrating how Islamophobic discourse is instrumentalized by the new far right to gain political benefits.

The centrality of Islamophobia in the discourse of the new far right is also reflected in the rest of European countries. In all these countries, there is a discourse that seeks to portray Muslims as threats to security, especially to women.

Islamophobia and Zionism

It is also important to note that the centrality of Islamophobia for the new European far right has led to a political shift within it, promoting closer ties between far-right parties and Zionism.

In recent years, several leaders of the new European far right, such as Le Pen in France, Orbán in Hungary, or Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, have openly expressed support for Israel, something unthinkable 30 years ago.

In the case of Spain and Portugal, both Chega and VOX have clearly aligned themselves with Israel and its colonial policy in Palestine. Santiago Abascal, leader of VOX, visited

Israel in December and met with Benjamin Netanyahu to “show solidarity.” Also present on this visit was the MEP and Vice President of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, Hermann Tertsch.

In the same period, the president of Chega, André Ventura, announced the presentation of a motion in parliament to show “support for Israel’s legitimate defense and condemn unequivocally the attack by the terrorist group Hamas.”

From a political perspective, the rapprochement between the new European far right and Zionism is due to the fact that, for the former, the colonial Zionist state has become a model to aspire to.

The idea of an ethnostate, with a hegemonic population and highly militarized, where those who question the racist foundations of that state are expelled or suppressed, represents a dream come true for the parties of the new far right.

This support for Zionism is explained because both share the fantasy, fueled by white supremacy, that the existence of Israel guarantees the defense of Western values amidst the alleged “Muslim barbarism.” It is, therefore, an association between two racist and supremacist discourses.

The centrality of Islamophobia, as a racist discourse against Muslim identity, largely explains not only the racist policies proposed by the parties of the new European far right but also how they see the colonial Zionist articulation as a model to aspire to.

by Xavier Villar

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